By Michael DiStefano
Canadian Baseball Network
Rookie Canadian pitcher Matt Brash surprised many batters in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) this season as a vital member of the Niagara University Purple Eagles pitching staff.
The Kingston, Ont., native became the first Canadian to win the MAAC Rookie of the Year award since former Purple Eagle pitcher James Avery won it in 2004.
“I was just happy to be recognized for what I did this year,” Brash said. “I was very consistent over the year and I always kept my team in the game. I didn’t walk too many guys [either], I attacked batters and just had an impact every time I was out there.”
After beginning his freshman season in the bullpen, Brash pitched his way into a starting role and finished the season with a team high 77 1/3 innings pitched, a 5-1 record, including two saves, 63 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA, which ranks fifth best in school history.
Brash’s award winning season didn’t come easy for the right-hander despite his overwhelming success in his freshman year.
“Before I came to Niagara I could just blow [pitches] by guys because of my velocity,” Brash said of his pitching style.
When Brash got to the NCAA he quickly realized that he wasn’t able to rely on velocity to get outs and had to learn how to pitch more effectively to Division I batters.
“I had to learn how to waste pitches, throw one up into the zone or bounce one,” the young Canadian said. “I had to go inside, which was tough for me at the beginning of the year, but I finally got used to throwing inside on batters and bouncing curveballs, [which ultimately] ended up being my strikeout pitch.”
Brash’s 63 strikeouts ranked second among all MAAC pitchers and he has his sights set on improving those numbers next year with a strong off-season.
“My whole goal this off-season is to get my arm a little healthier and gain some weight and fill out a little bit and hopefully I will gain some velocity,” he said.
Brash visited pitching coach Scott Robinson last summer and praised the Whitby, Ont., native for improving his mechanics, which resulted in his strong rookie campaign.
“I saw [Robinson] last winter and he allowed me to gain lots of miles per hour [on my fastball]. and he actually taught me my curveball,” Brash said of the Toronto-based pitching coach. “I’m going to go back to him before I go to summer ball and try to pick up [a new pitch] from him, maybe a cutter.”
The Purple Eagles right-hander believes adding the cutter will help disguise his fastball and force weaker contact against batters, especially when in a hitter’s count.
“A well-placed fastball seemed to get hit most of the time, so if I throw a cutter in there when I’m behind in the count a 2-0 cutter doesn’t get smoked as hard as a 2-0 fastball,” Brash said.
The freshman pitcher should get a chance to improve his cutter while working as a closer for the Newark Pilots of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League this summer.
“I’m going to be closing there to not get so many innings since I pitched so much this year,” Brash said. “I’m not [in Newark] yet though, I’m doing a little physiotherapy to give my arm a little break.”
The young Canadian hurler expects to be back on the mound soon enough as he’s the kind of player that eats, sleeps, and breathes baseball.
“I wish I was there right now,” he laughed. “It’s a little boring during the day here and I just want to play.”
After a successful rookie campaign, Brash set sky high expectations for himself going into his sophomore season at Niagara and hopes to add more hardware to his collection in 2018.
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